Last week, I attended meetings at Target for an organic skin care brand (different client from my Walmart trip).
This brand began selling to Target in April 2015. And they first brought me on with the request:
“Can you work with our sales rep to make sure we perform well at Target? And help us grow our shelf space?”
Their request stemmed from concerns that sales were too slow and they were afraid they would not be renewed for 2016. We immediately began digging into sales and coming up with a plan of action.
Simultaneously, Target invited this brand to submit for their big 2016 merchandising and marketing initiative, Made to Matter. This lengthy process included multiple rounds of consideration. Approximately 100 brands would be whittled down to just over 30 brands over several months.
Flash forward to mid-July. This brand scheduled two meetings at Target HQ:
- A line review with the category buyer and,
- Made to Matter final round pitch presentation to a committee of 15+ executives - of whom three I recognized and one actually waved to me across the room. Cover blown! ;)
For those new to retail, a “line review” occurs during the retail buyer’s official review period. This is when new vendors can pitch for their brand to be added to the buyer’s assortment. Or for current vendors, this is the period to pitch to add new items to shelf and defend the performance of products already on shelf.
Planograms reset once or twice a year most commonly. The buyer wipes the slate clean and builds his/her assortment from scratch. The line review process is the American Idol competition brands undertake to win shelf space for that new assortment.
Some categories that are seasonal have several line reviews/resets per year.
Continuing with the story of our Target meetings: The founder was nervous and wanted to make sure she put her best foot forward. She didn’t want to leave anything to chance. We made plans for me to 1) attend these meetings, 2) build the presentations, and 3) prepare her for what Target would expect. This is the same role I performed for the client I took to Walmart in my last blog post.
Both meetings went well. We accomplished the following:
- For Made to Matter - After analyzing the brand’s strengths from my POV as a retail buyer, we proposed to Target a marketing campaign that leveraged a point of difference that our competition could not claim. This proposal generated excitement during the meeting because of its inventiveness, alignment with our brand strengths, and how well it supported Target’s business objectives for Made to Matter.
- For the Line Review - Our category buyer voiced her desire to bring our brand from 1,000 stores to full-chain in 2016!!
- And just like my experience at Walmart, we DID get a decision communicated to us during the meeting (another rarity!). Decisions are rarely made during line reviews, but in this meeting, we received the buyer’s commitment to keeping our assortment largely unchanged in the next planogram revision period! We saved the line! All this, despite our moderate sales performance! Whew. We have more time to prove ourselves and strengthen sales performance!
Here are the 3 things we learned to keep shelf space in stores:
- Regularly update your buyer on your sales performance. Provide monthly recaps. Buyers don’t have the time to dig into individual SKU sales regularly so your regular analysis is much appreciated. This also allows you to own the analysis and control the story you are telling. Influencing how the buyer perceives your brand performance is important.
Obviously, you should not craft a story that is not believable or a misrepresentation of the facts. But you are the only person in position to craft an optimistic story.
- Supplement your monthly sales recaps with observations and recommendations. The first few months in store is a lab experiment. You can “test and learn” which marketing tactics work, which in-store promotion yields the greatest ROI, the ideal price point, which items are most popular, and collect feedback about merchandise placement and display. With this information, you can make recommendations on how to improve execution (on both your end and the store’s side). Your retail buyer will appreciate your problem-solution thinking, proactiveness and your “co-piloting” of her business. This elevates you from “just another vendor” to “business partner” quickly.
How we applied #1 and #2: We controlled our messaging to focus on what was working well, reinforced how we would replicate our successes and provided a plan for how we would course-correct what was not working. We referenced our own historical data to explain the seasonality of sales patterns which gave the buyer confidence that our sales would be stronger in the 2nd half of the year. This information not only helped our buyer see the future opportunities but it enables her to defend and champion our brand during internal discussions.
- Openly communicate with your retail buyer. Many brands are afraid to complain or ask questions of their buyer. Don’t be. There is a right way to do the above. Openly communicating, during a problem for example, allows the buyer to understand the entire situation and make decisions that takes your interest into account too. Yes, they absolutely want to make decisions that are mutually beneficial! Don’t be afraid to ask questions too. Buyers may be short on time, but they understand that you are only as successful as your information allows. So ask questions to help you make decisions. They will respect your desire to make good decisions. After all, your good decisions are good for their business too.
How we applied #3: In our situation, Target made a huge process change mid-stream – and with just 2 weeks until our meetings. This meant that the $5,000+ project my client had been working on for Target had to be trashed. And she had less than two weeks to pull together something new for the “new” process.
She was deflated and shaken by this. She was conflicted on whether she should communicate to her buyer her disappointment and $5,000 lost investment. She was also being asked to spend more money on the “new” process and she wanted to challenge Target on the merit of moving ahead with it.
While most vendors might shy away from “upsetting the apple cart”, we crafted a carefully worded email to express our disappointment, concerns and delicately posed our questions to help us decide if we would move forward with the new process.
The response we received surpassed our expectations. Not only did they provide a genuine apology, they offered to compensate her for the lost investment! AND offered Target resources to help her repurpose that $5,000 project! AND gave her information to help her make an informed decision about how she would move forward. Definitely a win-win for all.
We will not find out the fate of Made to Matter for another month. But I’ll be sure to share the results here as soon as we are able to share it. Hopefully this brand is among the final ~30 brands. But if not, it was a definite win to be even considered and to make it all the way to the final rounds of consideration.